For those of you that don’t know, BBC writersroom is the department that deals with new writers. They explain it better themselves here.
Here’s a few bullet points from the event -
Kate Rowland - Creative Director of New Writing
-The BBC get about 10,000 unsolicited scripts a year, they “sift” by reading the first 10 pages of every script. About 90-95% of scripts are classified “standard return,” (i.e rejected) The rest get a full read and notes. Of these, about 100 writers per year get invited in for a meeting.
- It takes about 3 or 4 months for a script to go through the system, Kate claimed.
- writersroom have 8-10 readers. The readers come in every two weeks to sift and take away the scripts that they think warrant a full read. Kate said that they take the reading process very seriously - The readers are all experienced, and many have professional credits. If a reader isn’t sure about the 10 pages, they pass it on to another reader. Kate also says she gives everyone the same script about once a year to check up on them.
- increasingly, they are rolling out “Toolbox sessions” - masterclasses for the 5-10% who get notes.
- once a writer is on their radar, writersroom keeps an eye on their progress. Once a month they have a “writer audit” where they talk names. They also have regular meetings with other BBC departments where they act as a kind of “internal agent” for new writers.
- they also run schemes such as the Writers Academy and the Writers in Residence scheme, which are kind of apprenticeships within the BBC. The Writers Academy picked 8 people to work with the continuing drama department for a year. They prefer people who “understand and care about" their 4 key shows - Eastenders, Casualty, Holby City and Doctors.
- Shows like Eastenders and Doctors also run have mini academies
- they also run competitions to write, for example, a 5 minute radio monologue for the world cup. Kate said it’s important not to neglect these opportunities. Many writers focus is too narrow - there are thousands of “points of entry” - theatre, radio, shorts - that provide opportunities to writers.
- the website also promotes other opportunities (as long as they don’t ask the writer to pay too much - this is the BBC!)
- Kate advised writers go to the BBC commissioning sites, to see what the BBC want.
- Family audience, entertainment, high concept are the buzz words.
- Auntie is interested in connecting with the yoof audience, bless her. Kate quoted Jane Tranter as saying “we need to drop 2 generations.” (Apparently the average viewer is 55.)
- they are also interested in new platforms, and projects that exploit new technologies. Interactivity is the buzzword here. Kate said, however, that it is still about story and character.
- You can, of course, send your script to other people while submitting to the beeb. Kate said the bigger indies like Kudos are increasingly looking to put something back and develop new writers, and people like Tony Jordan, Kay Mellor and Paul Abbot like to do things with new writers (!)
- don’t send in treatments, or pitch ideas without a script - it’s all about the writing.
- don’t send in scripts for existing shows - it’s you voice they want.
- don’t revise and send in the same script (mentioning no names here!) Unless they ask you to.
- People who keep resubmitting and getting rejected do progress to getting notes, so don’t give up.
- send a brief cover letter that sells you and says you’re interested in doing. But ultimately, it’s the script that counts.
Finally, Kate said scripts are getting better!
Darren Rapier - writer for Doctors
- Doctors is a show for new writers. You get commissioned (once you are in with a script editor!) by pitching ideas for the “story of the day”
- there are about 200 writers who write for Doctors - so even if you are in, you might not get any commissions in a year.
- it is important to be proactive, even if you have “made it.”
- if you are commissioned, you are given the “serial content.” Then you do 2 or 3 drafts of a treatment, and 3 or 4 drafts of the script.
Okay, that was slightly more than a few bullet points! The event was worth seeing, but at an hour and a half perhaps not worth going to see if you live in Dorset and don’t get back home till 3 in the morning! Good value at a fiver though, and free wine, which is the main thing!